Berman reiterates concerns about ambiguities in US-India nuke deal

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Washington, Sept.26 : House of Representatives Democrat Howard Berman, a known critic of the US-India civil nuclear deal, has told his fellow representatives that while he believes that integrating India into the global non-proliferation regime will be a positive step, he has concerns about "ambiguities" in the nuclear cooperation agreement that has been negotiated between the two countries.

Stating that he supports peaceful nuclear cooperation with India, Berman said: "I continue to have concerns about ambiguities in the nuclear cooperation agreement that the Bush administration negotiated with the Government of India, particularly with regard to the potential consequences if India tests another nuclear weapon, and to the legal status of so-called "fuel assurances" made by our negotiators."

He said that he was also "deeply troubled" by the Bush administration's complete disregard for important non-proliferation requirements in the Hyde Act, which he warned would place American companies at a competitive disadvantage when seeking a special exemption for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

He insisted that the legislation regarding US-India nuclear deal should be "interpreted in a manner consistent with the constraints in the Hyde Act", and added that it should include a number of provisions designed to improve Congressional oversight of the India nuclear cooperation agreement.

Only then, he said, would he vote in favour of the Bill.

Berman's statement came as senior Indian Government officials continued to arm twist their American counterparts on their reservations about the changes in the language of the text of the Senate Bill related to the US-India civil nuclear deal that has been through various stages of negotiations over the past 38 months.

Indian officials are quite vexed and upset by Berman's move to introduce fresh clauses in the Bill.

The Berman-related clauses in the bill say that the U.S. should prevent transfer of nuclear technology and material if India conducts a test in future. It also made reference to support on Iran, but this reference was later withdrawn under diplomatic pressure.

Berman wants the U.S. Congress to vote on all future 123 Agreements. This move can be neutralized by a presidential statement overruling provisions in bill. US President George W Bush had earlier overruled Hyde Act provisions.

Sources said that Indian officials are negotiating on the contents of the presidential statement. They are also demanding that a joint committee oversee a reconciliation between the Bill introduced in the Senate and the Bill introduced in the House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 19-2 in favor of the deal. The Senate Bill reportedly states that United States will prevent the transfer of nuclear material technology if India conducts a nuclear test. It also says that the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal will be subject to the provisions of the Hyde Act and other American laws.

India has maintained that changes in the language of the Senate Bill is an internal matter of the United States, and that it will be solely guided and bound by the 123 agreement. f passed by the U.S. Congress, the agreement will be signed formally by either the External Affairs Minister or by officials designated by the two sides.

Besides the nuke deal, issues like high-tech cooperation, agriculture, education and defence ties will figure prominently in Singh-Bush talks.

Some television reports have said that there is a possibility of the Prime Minister delaying his departure from the United States should a formal agreement materialise to the satisfaction of both sides. Official sources, however, were tightlipped about this development. By Naveen Kapoor

ANI

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